Gerrard W. and Richard Haworth

Hope College will award Richard Haworth and the late Gerrard W. Haworth honorary degrees during the college’s Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 5, in recognition of their leadership of Haworth, Inc. and commitment to the community and education, including significant impact on Hope across decades.

“Haworth, Inc. and the Haworth family have been helpfully engaged with Hope College for many years.  The vision of G.W. and Dick for both design and function in the furniture industry has been widely recognized, and their generosity to education and community is likewise exemplary.  Hope has been the recipient of their commitment and wise counsel.  It is entirely appropriate and fitting that we honor them with Hope's highest award, the honorary doctorate degree,” said Dr. James E. Bultman, president of Hope College.

Each will receive the Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.).  Matthew Haworth, who is chairman of Haworth, Inc. and also Richard’s son and G.W.’s grandson, will accept G.W.’s award.

The college’s Commencement will be held at the Ray and Sue Smith Stadium if outside, and at the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse in the event of inclement weather.  Tickets, which were distributed to participating seniors in advance, will only be required if the event is held at the fieldhouse.

G.W. Haworth, who died in October 2006 at age 95, was the founding chairman of Haworth, Inc.  Dick Haworth is chairman emeritus of the company.

The Haworth family and Haworth, Inc. have both made a priority of supporting the community, with a deep commitment to education and helping young people in particular, making major donations to Western Michigan University, which named its college of business The Haworth College of Business, Western Theological Seminary, and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holland, among others.

At Hope, the family and company have had a lasting impact on the college and students in a variety of ways.  Among other examples, the college’s new Haworth Engineering Center, scheduled to open in the fall, is named in honor of a lead gift from the family and company; the Haworth Inn and Conference Center, which opened in January 1997, was named in honor of a major combined corporate and family donation toward the college’s endowment; and in 1990, G.W. Haworth and his wife, Eddie, who is a 1947 Hope graduate, established the Gerrard W. and Edna Haworth Endowed Scholarship Fund at Hope for students who have demonstrated financial need and show promise of making a positive difference in the world.

G.W. Haworth was born in Alliance, Neb., and moved to Benton Harbor to finish high school.  He graduated from Western Michigan University in 1937 with a B.A. in education and received an M.A. in educational administration from the University of Michigan in 1940.

He began his career as a high school industrial arts teacher in Holland in 1938.  In 1945 he began supplementing his income by building special order wood products on a part-time basis.  His endeavor became so successful that three years later he left his teaching position and formed his own company, Modern Products.

Dick Haworth, who received a bachelor’s degree in business from Western Michigan University (WMU) in 1964, began his career in 1964 when he joined the family-owned business as an assistant sales manager. At that time, Modern Products Inc. employed 79 members with sales of $1,285,000 in the partition and moveable wall business.  In 1967, Dick was drafted into the U.S. Army.  He was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant in 1969.

He returned to the company as executive vice president in 1969 with responsibility for manufacturing and new product development.  He was instrumental in developing the Modern Office Module system--introduced in 1971 and later known as the UniGroup® Office Interior System.  That same year, sales exceeded $5 million and employment reached 118 members.  Modern Products Inc. changed its name to Haworth, Inc. in 1975.

In 1976, Dick became the company’s president and chief executive officer, with G.W. Haworth retaining his role as chairman of the board.  Dick’s love for new ideas kept him involved in product development and market introduction, resulting in exciting new products.  For example, Dick led the development and introduction of the industry’s first electrified, panel-based office furniture system, ERA 1, which earned the second largest intellectual property settlement in the history of the Patent Office in 1994.  He holds 17 patents for the company.

In 1994, Dick was named chairman and chief executive officer of Haworth.  Over the next 14 years, he continued to build the company into a global, multi product line company with sales of $1.65 billion and more than 7,300 members worldwide.  Today, Haworth has manufacturing plants and showrooms in most major American, European, and Asian cities as well as a worldwide dealership network.  The company is a global manufacturer of office furniture environments, including furniture systems, desks, files, seating, movable walls, raised access floors, and institutional furniture.

Dick continues as Haworth chairman emeritus and a Board member while remaining engaged with customers, product development, engineering, and community projects – his areas of special passion.

Honors that G.W. Haworth received through the years included being named Manufacturer of the Year by the Michigan Manufacturers Association in 1995; being named Entrepreneur of the Year by the University of Michigan’s School of Business Administration in 1993; an honorary doctorate from the Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids in 1987; and a Distinguished Alumni Award from Western Michigan University in 1986.

Dick Haworth also received the WMU Distinguished Alumni Award, and served as a WMU Trustee.  He sits on the board of advisors for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, is a member of the Business Leaders for Michigan and is involved in many community initiatives.  In November 2010, he presented the address “From Garage to Global Enterprise: The Haworth Story” at Hope through the college’s Meijer Lecture Series.